Obama returns to Prague with narrower goals
By Ben Pershing
A year ago, President Obama vowed in Prague "to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." On Thursday, a president who has grown accustomed to settling for compromises returned to the Central European capital to ink an arms control agreement that would move the world only a small step toward his stated goal.
The New York Times ledes: "President Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitri A. Medvedev, signed a historic treaty here on Thursday to trim their strategic nuclear arsenals to their lowest levels in half a century. The treaty caps a turnaround in relations with Moscow that hit bottom in August 2008 during the war between Russia and its tiny southern neighbor, Georgia. ... Even as the two presidents hailed the treaty, they found no common ground on American plans to build an anti-missile shield in Europe to counter any Iranian threat. Mr. Obama refused Russian demands to include limits on missile defense in the treaty, nearly scuttling the agreement.." The Wall Street Journal says "A year after coming here to herald 'a world without nuclear weapons,' Mr. Obama has paired modest advances in arms control with bold rhetoric, hoping that the spirit of his message will move the world away from atomic weapons. ... But the arms agreement could prove less ambitious than its broad outlines suggest, and the new U.S. security strategy appears to be more a clarification of policy than a break with the past. One senior administration official termed the changes 'adjustments in our position.'"
The Associated Press sets the scene: "Inside the hall, the anticipated moment came as the two presidents picked up their pens, glanced at each other and grinned as they signed several documents, with aides transferring the papers back and forth so all would have both signatures. When it was done, the leaders seemed momentarily at a loss, with Medvedev flashing a smile and a shrug before they stood to shake hands." The Washington Post notes, "Arms control advocates have expressed disappointment in the treaty, saying it does not go far enough in reducing the dangerous weapons on both sides. Some conservatives have raised questions about the treaty's impact on the American nuclear deterrent. But experts from the right and the left agree the treaty extends a verification plan that has allowed the world's two nuclear giants to maintain stability that has existed for the past 20 years." The Los Angeles Times cautions: "As Obama officials herald the treaty as a sign of dramatic progress in U.S.-Russian relations, Russian officials have been issuing warnings that they could pull out of the agreement at some future date. ... In a blog post on the White House website this morning, the White House's new point man on the ratification effort downplayed the warnings, suggesting that they are less significant than the actual language of the hard-wrought treaty."
Politico says the treaty signing "marks the first substantive step in his administration's efforts to "reset" relations with its former Cold War adversary. Yet it's Obama's packed diplomatic agenda in Prague that really begins to test the U.S.-Russia reset. Already there are signs of how gingerly Obama has to tread over the next few days." Walter Shapiro mocks Obama's description earlier this week of the administration's new policy: "In one carefully hedged sentence that brought to mind Victor Hugo's 823-word monstrosity from 'Les Miserables,' Obama used 137 words to say, in effect, 'yes, but on the other hand,' about his nuclear doctrine. The clotted phrases that Obama brandished in that one sentence included: 'a robust nuclear deterrent ... invest in improved infrastructure ... lone or primary deterrent ... evolving and shifting ... less emphasis on nuclear weapons ... conventional weapons capability ... all but the most extreme circumstances ... the START Treaty ... further discussions with the Russians ... nuclear umbrella ... long-term vision.' ... All this nuclear crusading is simultaneously laudable and largely symbolic -- a presidential gesture toward the world as it ought to be rather than it is."
Hillary Clinton defends the new nuclear policy in a Guardian op-ed: "This verifiable reduction by the world's two largest nuclear powers reflects our commitment to the basic bargain of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - all nations have the right to seek the peaceful use of nuclear energy, but they all also have the responsibility to prevent nuclear proliferation, and those that do possess these weapons must work towards disarmament. This agreement is just one of several concrete steps the United States is taking to make good on President Obama's pledge to make America and the world safer by reducing the threat of nuclear weapons, proliferation and terrorism." David Hoffman warns, "Arms control is not magic, even if it seems to have high priests and secret codes. ... So let's hold off on the overheated hyperbole about the Prague treaty that U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are set to sign Thursday. As long as the weapons are still around and on alert, it is unquestionably worthwhile to limit them in a treaty with solid verification provisions. Obama promised last year in his speech in Prague to deliver a treaty that is "sufficiently bold." This one is sufficient, but it's modest, not bold."
Is Obama preparing to push forward with a new Middle East peace plan? One day after David Ignatius broke the news that Jim Jones met with a half-dozen past national security advisers to weight a new initiative, the prospects for a new initiative from the White House are mixed. The New York Times writes: "The fact that Mr. Obama was willing to have such an impromptu discussion with former advisers illustrates his increasing frustration with the foot-dragging over Middle East peace talks, and a growing sense that he may have to present a specific plan, rather than wait for the two sides to come to any sort of agreement. The White House is still pushing for Israelis and Palestinians to have the indirect talks both sides had agreed to before the construction announcement raised too much consternation to proceed. But several administration officials acknowledge that those talks, if they ever start, may get mired pretty quickly." The Washington Post reports that "officials ... said there has been no decision to offer such a plan, either in the coming months or later this year. Officials said a presidential peace plan -- as opposed to 'bridging proposals' that would be offered during peace talks between the two sides -- has long been considered an option for Obama. But they said the administration, now locked in tense talks with Israel about making confidence-building overtures to the Palestinians, is focused on arranging indirect talks between the two sides."
On the domestic front, The New York Daily News checks in from the Minneapolis Palin-Bachmann rally: "Hockey mom Sarah Palin turned momentarily feminist on Wednesday, asserting that it is 'mostly women' who are the 'pink elephant' vanguard of the conservative Tea Party movement. Speaking at a rally in Minneapolis for Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann - known mainly for railing against President Obama's fictional 'death panels' on the House floor - Palin said she had just recently noticed 'this gender thing.' 'Something kind of interesting about some of these Tea Party leaders - we are finding out that most of them are women,' she told a boisterous crowd of 10,000 or so. 'Yeah, some surveys show that.'" Politico says Palin and Bachmann "lavished praise on each other Wednesday at a boisterous rally held at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Before a predominantly female crowd of more than 11,000 fans, the two high-profile Republicans ripped President Obama at an event that doubled as a fundraiser for Bachmann's re-election campaign. While Minnesota GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) opened for Palin and Bachmann, both quickly faded into the background, unable to compete with their wattage."
Howard Fineman examines the Tea Party movement: "This is the Populism of the right, 2010. Like earlier versions, it is angry, fearful, worried about losing ground to 'Them.' And, in the eyes of the right, President Barack Obama is chief executive of 'Them.' A Gallup poll shows that, demographically, tea partiers are different from America as a whole, but not radically. They are noticeably more male, a little whiter, a little older, a little better off, but not by much. There are fewer among them who are unemployed than in the population overall. This is a revolt of middle-class 'haves,' but 'haves' who fear, with some justification, that their hold is slipping. They blame Wall Street, but they blame government more. Tea-party sentiment is nothing new. If you don't count Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, it goes back at least to the anti-immigration Know Nothings of the 1840s."
ABC News notes that "Tim Pawlenty announced on Tuesday that he is going to sue over President Obama's federal health-care law. ... Pawlenty, who is gearing up to run for president in 2012, is one of several high-profile Republicans seemingly trying to prove they are the most anti-Obamacare candidate in the field. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who is weighing a GOP presidential run of her own, has used her Facebook page to put 20 House Democrats 'in the cross-hairs.' ... The health-care plan that Mitt Romney enacted as governor of Massachusetts served as a model for Obama's federal health-care plan. But the Romney team knows that the individual mandate contained in the Massachusetts plan is unpopular among conservative activists. So the once and likely future Republican presidential candidate is promoting what he calls his 'Prescription for Repeal.'" The Christian Science Monitor asks, "Can the new healthcare reform law survive? President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress rightly chalk it up as an epic legislative achievement. But their fight to sustain the new law through the 2010 and 2012 elections - before key features such as subsidies and the health insurance 'exchanges' take effect - could be as daunting as passing it. One reason: House and Senate Republicans, who uniformly rejected the healthcare package, may well remain opposed."
Thought the debate over abortion coverage was over? The Wall Street Journal reports: "Less than three weeks after the passage of the landmark national health-care bill, the abortion debate is being reignited: Lawmakers in least six states are pushing for legislation to block abortion coverage in some health plans. After rancorous clashes over abortion coverage in the national bill, opponents were assured that federal funds wouldn't subsidize coverage of the procedure. The final legislation requires insurers that sell plans in new government-run exchanges to segregate payments for abortion coverage from other premiums to ensure government subsidies won't go toward the procedure. Still, many abortion opponents say that didn't go far enough. So lawmakers are turning to another provision in the legislation that says states can choose to prevent plans offered through their exchanges from covering abortion altogether. That would likely affect most individual and small-group plans in a state, starting when the exchanges launch in 2014."
April 8, 2010; 8:06 AM ET
Categories: The Rundown | Tags: arms control treaty, obama in prague, obama prague, obama prague trip, obama signs start treaty, obama start treaty, obama trip to prague, start treaty
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